Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Sue Carlton: Shock jock trial an insult to all attorneys — and the public

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In every profession, there is the worst thing one of its members can be accused of, the ugliest allegation that can splash mud on all members of a particular tribe.

For reporters, it's making up facts. For financial types, it's stealing clients' money. For teachers, it's anything that hurts kids.

And for attorneys, maybe it's real-life lawyers acting like the corrupt ones in those over-the-top legal dramas, willing to go low-down and dirty to take down opposing counsel.

The monkeyshines in Tampa's shock jock defamation trial, that bloated weeks-long waste of court time that showed us the creepy world of loudmouth DJs talking smack, are over. But even its two larger-than-life players, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Todd "MJ" Schnitt, are overshadowed by a scandal straight off Boston Legal, a mess now the subject of heated post-trial motions and under investigation by the Florida Bar.

The story so far: Attorney for plaintiff Schnitt gets popped for DUI after a day in court, allowing lawyer Stephen Diaco of the firm defending Bubba to sniff, "The whole thing makes me ashamed to be an attorney." There's a line to fit a case.

Outraged, Schnitt lawyers allege Bubba lawyers deliberately set up attorney C. Philip Campbell by sending a pretty paralegal half his age into Malio's bar to lie about where she works, chat him up and buy drinks. Though he lives within walking distance, Campbell was driving her in her car when he was arrested.

How did they happen to catch him, you ask? A lawyer from the Bubba firm, Adam Filthaut, admits he called his Tampa police DUI sergeant friend to report the man at Malio's. Police are on it. Campbell is arrested a couple of hours later.

Important detail here: Paralegal, and then lawyers in her firm, are left with Campbell's briefcase containing secret court papers after he is taken away. And having opposing counsel's stuff in the middle of a trial is officially not good.

On the witness stand, paralegal is asked for details about that night, like whether her boss told her what to do, and takes the Fifth. Lawyer Diaco similarly takes the Fifth, though he this week says he will take the Fifth no more.

And so the Florida Bar has opened an investigation on Campbell, as the Bar does (and should do) when a lawyer is charged with DUI.

But it's also investigating Diaco, Filthaut, and fellow lawyer Robert Adams, identified as the Fifth-taking paralegal's boss, on those other dirty-pool allegations. And answers would be good.

Speaking of which, a moment on Tampa police DUI Sgt. Ray Fernandez, godfather to the son of the lawyer who tipped him before Campbell's arrest. Police brass stand behind him, and he has been called a "pawn" in this. But given the men's relationship, isn't an internal investigation warranted?

For the lawyers, it's up to the Florida Bar, which is responsible for the reputation and integrity of its attorneys, to prosecute or dismiss, to decide facts and also justice, down to whether lawyers deserve to keep on being lawyers. The Bar owes it to the good lawyers among us, and also to the good faith of the public watching this drama play out.

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